Our (relatively) new friend, Jim, poses an excellent question on his blog, and as it is one we wrestle with here, I’d advise anyone interested to read his interesting treatment of it. He is not saying that doctrinal differences do not matter, but he is posing the question as to whether they are not rather more important to us than they are to God? I suspect that must be true; we the creature and the finite cannot see as the Infinite and the Creator sees it. Splendid though it would be to have been born into circumstances where all one had to do was to accept the plain truth of the Church into which one was born, for many of us this has not been possible. Some were not born into a Church at all and have had to find their way to Christianity through their own efforts, or, as I would see it, their own efforts with guidance from the Spirit. Others, of which I am one, were not born into a place where the religion to which they were exposed as a child, held up when they began to think as a man.
That said, there may, here, be a sort of answer to Jim’s question. My father was a militant anti-theist; calling him an atheist does scant justice to the contempt in which he held all religious belief. His own hard life had left him with the conviction that there was no God, or if there was, he was a God who hated him personally and had condemned him to an existence which brought far more sorrow than joy; his reaction was violent, and on the one occasion a group of Latter Day Saints called round to the house to take us to church, he exploded in one of his great rages; the Mormons beat a hasty retreat – an irate former sergeant-major in a fury was something from which the Germans had fled in North Africa; the Mormons were right to flee. I have two brothers, both of whom imbibed his view of these things. I did not; I have no idea why.
I recall, as a child, going along with friends to a Catholic service, that must have been in the mid 1960s. I found it oppressive and a bit spooky; at that stage of my development there was no way I could have gone into that church. The mild Methodism to which my mother exposed we was a different matter. I liked the ‘God is love’ banner about the preacher’s head, and I like Sunday School and the cheerful songs; I was a child, and I though as a child, and I have always been, and always will be, grateful to Methodism for bringing me a knowledge of Jesus and the Gospel.
At University I gravitated to high Church Anglicanism. As a young adult I came to understand about symbolism and about the ‘Real presence’ and why liturgy mattered; the Anglican tradition nurtured me and spoke to me in a way nothing else could have done. It drew me very close to Orthodoxy, so close that when the Church of England moved off to pursue (as I saw it) other interests (social work, equality for women, fighting the Thatcher government, saving the whale and whatnot), the move into the Orthodox Church was easy enough. There I came to a better understanding of ecclesiology and of Apostolicity and the importance of authority – so good, indeed, that my questioning took me across the Tiber.
One reason I remain well-disposed to my former churches is that they led me to where I am now; without them I do not know how I could have reached across the Tiber. God knows us, broken and battered as we are, and perhaps in his compassion he provides milk and water until some of we weaker brethren are ready for the stronger stuff? I don’t know, but that’s my story, and I would hazard a guess I am not alone here in something like it?